Mother Jones in Heaven

Turns out that the event has been cancelled as Vivian Nesbitt has medical issues. No word about rescheduling.

This looks interesting! For more information, CLICK HERE.

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It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Dude Sings

a rant by Bob Roman

No really, as of the January 26 – 27 weekend, the Federal Government was not entirely up and running. With President Trump’s promise to sign the legislation, Congress passed HJ 28 that pertains to spending for all the outstanding appropriations except the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has signed it, extending funding for those parts of the Federal government for several weeks. Money for the Department of Homeland Security is covered by HJ 31. Both the House and the Senate passed this bill, but the Senate had amendments that need to be reconciled with the House. These appear to be mostly proof reading changes, but it still requires legislative action by both chambers.

Beyond that, these bills place the situation approximately where it was right before Trump did his informal veto. The continuing resolutions were the final items on the 115th Congress’ agenda. When Trump humphed, Congress swore and went home. Trump must have felt this would inevitably put the blame on Congress. That it ended up splattering mostly upon him must have been an unpleasant surprise. Will he try it again?

There are some major exceptions to this status quo ante, however. One is the damage done to Trump’s political base of support, both within and outside the government. This has been much commented on, particularly with regard to the Fox News commentariat, blogs, and social media. But while Trump has been seen to jump in response to these folks, it’s also true that the House Freedom Caucus had lit their farts in support of a veto. Now that Trump has “caved”, it will be harder for Trump to assume their support. How badly does he want or need it? Depending on the answer, it may mean we will be facing a second shutdown when the clock expires on these two continuing resolutions.

Or it may mean that the House Democratic caucus gives Trump a piece of his wall. Because that is the other major change: the House of Representatives has changed from being run by the Republican caucus to being run by the Democratic caucus. What will the House Democratic Caucus be willing to give in exchange for keeping this assortment of government departments and agencies open, and how will that affect internal Democratic politics? And what shall we say of the Senate Republican caucus?

And then there is the prospect of a State of Emergency. Sounds pretty ominous, doesn’t it? With Trump in charge, you needn’t be an American lefty to start measuring the distance to the Canadian or Mexican borders. But in fact, a State of Emergency would not be anything new. These have been extensively if incompetently legislated. We’re actually living under several of them right now. This does not mean you should be any less concerned than you would be if asked to venture into a field of land mines. Congress today is potentially about as meaningful as the Roman Senate was under Caligula, and Trump is only the immediate hazard. My fellow Americans, Congressional incompetence has all our asses in the wind. If you are at all curious, I’d recommend this recent article by Elizabeth Goitein.

Keep in mind that walls and border police are in fact more effective at keeping people in than fencing people out. Gulag America?

Hail to the CreepAnd about round two? Oh, right. I’m supposed to be answering these questions, pretending to a punditry I do not possess; I’m not quite the walking definition of unhip, but the circles I inhabit are a long way from within the Beltway. Given that half to two-thirds of politics is gossip, I’m at a severe disadvantage. But the metric I’m watching (lacking, as I am, in gossip) is Trump’s approval polling, though not so much his disapproval numbers. Just what one is to make of them is hard to say as I believe it will depend on context. For example, is Trump cornered? What is the impact on Republican radicals?

An obvious strategy for Democrats is finding a way of splitting the Republican coalition. It seems unlikely that this would be fruitful in the space of a few weeks, but however long it would take, the resulting policies would not likely be thrilling for us lefties.

Yet these are just the latest battles in what will be a decades long conflict, the latest manifestation of a disease afflicting the American body politic like a recurring infestation of malaria. Trump is correct in identifying immigration as a major issue right now, though he sees it as means of mobilizing fear, bigotry, alienation and anger to his own ends. Indeed, that’s why he wants a wall rather than pursuing other policies. But I see migration and refugees as possibly a defining characteristic of much of the 21st Century. Granted, the 20th Century saw its share, but that illustrates how extreme I suspect the not-too-distant future will be. Even with Trump gone, this will remain a major issue.

If you judge that this is a thoroughly pessimistic vision, you’re quite right. People leave home for a foreign country mostly because their situation at home has become untenable in one way or another. And that’s pretty much what I see happening over large portions of the world. Historically, humans have attempted to deal with ecological collapse and climate change through military means. This is how I perceive much of what is happening along the southern and eastern Mediterranean coast, but it is happening elsewhere, too, closer to the U.S.A., with all the consequent people looking for new homes.

Would you stay, suffer and die if migrating were even a long-shot option?

Despite being a charter member of the Democratic Socialists of America, I don’t believe in uncontrolled borders for people, never mind goods and money. Regarding people, the most diplomatic way of putting it is that there is something about migrants that does not bring out the best in humans, most especially among the receiving population. The migration doesn’t have to be across international borders. Just think of the California of The Grapes of Wrath or the less than welcoming streets of northern cities during the Great Migration or the urban “hillbilly” slums that provided refuge for the Appalachian dispossessed. Nor are the newbies necessarily any more saintly; mostly they’re simply at a disadvantage.

Having said that, keep in mind that people are going to do what people want to do or feel they need to do. After a while, setting up a system of rewards and sanctions whose consequence make whatever it is (in this case, immigration) impossible, it becomes an exercise in malice and stupidity: exactly what we have with our current laws regarding immigration and asylum.

I don’t have much optimism that the left, including DSA, will come up with a workable solution to this issue. Calling for the abolition of ICE, for example, is a fine way of throwing rocks through the windows of the Establishment, but anyone governing will end up reinventing that institution. (Which could still be a step forward.) At best, along with the labor movement, I might hope for some mitigation of what big business clearly would love: some system of indentured servitude, something the current system of H-2B visas closely resembles.

If I could speculate on what a workable system might look like: allow people to come to the States under normal tourist or student visas. If they intend to look for work or if they are offered work, charge them (and perhaps their employer) a fee for a taxpayer ID number that would be partially refunded if they choose to leave. It could be paid in installments in lieu of Social Security deductions, for example. The cost for migrants would still be far less than what a smuggler would charge, these days at least. Depending on your level of bigotry, one might propose further punitive details involving criminality much like the last so-called “compromise” regarding immigration did, but I leave these as an exercise for your sick imagination.

Incidentally, don’t assume that U.S. citizens are automatically welcome and accepted elsewhere. It hasn’t become an issue, but various countries (Mexico and Costa Rica for examples) have populations of U.S. citizens resident with dubious documentation: retirees, mostly, but one could easily imagine circumstances where we come to work. I recall that some of the proposed “free trade” agreements in the past had provisions for numbers of foreign workers to come here. There really should be reciprocity in these agreements.

Refugees are a special category of migrant. Keep in mind that some of them will be U.S. citizens: think Louisiana, Puerto Rico and California as current examples. There will be more in the future. It’s time we start dealing with this in a more systematic way, and we may as well include provisions for foreigners as well.

One last word, this about conservatives: One ongoing point of conservative agitation is the charge that Democrats and the left (oddly synonymous among right-wingers) favor open borders because the migrants (Mexican and Central Americans in particular) will therefore end up voting for Democrats. In its more delusional manifestations, said migrants end up voting for Democrats long before they even become citizens.

Conservatives have some reason to worry about this, though realistically it’s mostly because of their own behavior. Such an unwelcoming political brand! But in the past, conservatives were steadfastly in favor of admitting migrants from communist countries: Vietnamese, Russian Jews, Cubans. And those groups did tend to vote Republican once they became citizens. Providing them a new home was the right thing to do even if it was also blatantly hypocritical. For example: the Haitian human rights record was far more sordid than Cuba and the Haitian economy every bit as wretched or worse than Cuba. Upon setting foot in America, Cubans could stay but Haitians go home! Since immigration policy has been so plainly political for conservatives, it’s easy to see why they’d be prone to panic and to assume hostile motivation. Asking conservatives to get over it is probably futile, but…

Get over it.

End the Shut-Down

Unions representing employees of the Federal government rallied at the Federal Plaza, Dearborn & Adams in downtown Chicago at Noon on Thursday. This was part of a nation-wide series of demonstrations protesting the budget stalemate that has shut down portions of the government, leaving some workers at home and others still at work but all without pay.

The event was probably better characterized as a press conference on steroids. The crowd was not large, considering the number of workers affected in the Chicago metropolitan area, considering, indeed, the number of Federal employees based in the immediate vicinity of the demonstration: say about 150 attendees, give or take a few dozen. As a press conference, it was highly successful with a large turnout from TV, radio and print. Better still was the opportunity for journalists to interview affected workers as nothing makes a story like putting an individual face on it.

There will be a protest at Noon in Federal Plaza (Dearborn & Adams) every Thursday in Chicago as long as the shut-down continues.

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A sampling of some of the signs at the demonstration, shortly before the event. Photo by Roman.
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Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., who also spoke. Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Susan Hurley of Chicago Jobs with Justice. Photo by Roman.
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It was good to see Jorge Mujica: well met! Photo by Roman.
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Charles Paidock, representing the Machinists’ Federal employees. Photo by Roman.
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It could happen. Photo by Roman
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I seriously love the hat. Photo by Roman.

 

The Heartland Cafe — R.I.P.

42 years: blink and you’ve missed it

The current owner of the Heartland Café, Tom Rosenfeld, put the property up for sale in August of 2018. Back then, one possibility was that the building would remain and the Heartland might continue as a tenant. However, Rosenfeld just announced that they were progressing toward a sale but with the new owner planning on a new building. Rosenfeld went on to say they were scouting new locations, but his wording was sufficiently vague and tentative that someone as naturally pessimistic as myself would assume Rosenfeld will take the money and instead support his original passion: organic farming — which, after all, can’t be any more profitable than the restaurant. The Heartland’s last day is said to be December 31.

Considering how large and ugly the new buildings along Morse Avenue are, I’m not looking forward to whatever replaces the Heartland building.

For those who are not from around here, the Heartland Café was only sometimes adequate as a restaurant. Much more successfully, it was a performance venue, a gallery, a community center and a political institution in Chicago’s 49th Ward. In the 21st Century (and maybe for some years earlier), it was also quite frankly a tourist trap for folks looking for hippies or (more likely) remembering having been one back in the day.

The Heartland was established in 1976 by Katy Hogan, Michael James and Stormy Libman, the idea allegedly inspired by a mescaline trip. Hogan, I know, was the daughter of a leader in the IBEW. James had been a leader in the Students for a Democratic Society, participating in their Jobs Or Income Now community organizing project in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Libman and James were married. James had also been involved in publishing an Uptown neighborhood underground newspaper, Rising Up Angry. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Hogan and Libman had been involved with the paper as well, but I never asked nor do I have a masthead to consult.

James continued the tradition of Rising Up Angry by publishing, at irregular intervals, The Heartland Journal. It shared Rising Up Angry’s psychedelic underground style, albeit rather more accessible for reading… as befits an older and less intoxicated audience. James and Hogan also began a weekly radio program, “Live from the Heartland“, featuring political and cultural topics in an interview format. If I remember correctly, you can also find videos of most of the programs on YouTube.

Over the years, the Heartland Café took over the other businesses in the building (a bar and a theatre) as well as the venerable No Exit Café after it had moved a few doors south of the Heartland along Glenwood.

When Tom Rosenfeld took over, my impression is that he hoped running a restaurant would be synergistic with his organic farming. The Heartland always had a general store that sold condiments, books, magazines, novelties and such. Rosenfeld reduced the food service area by switching the restaurant room with the general store and turning the general store into a mini Whole Foods. I think it was a clever idea except for all the competition.

The CTA retaining wall along southbound Glenwood Avenue between Greenleaf and Lunt is devoted to what is essentially a block long commercial for the Heartland.

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Remembering the No Exit Café. Photo by Roman.

Interestingly, the murals begin by commemorating the No Exit Café. As an institution, the No Exit actually began in Evanston. I don’t know when it moved to Rogers Park. When I moved to Rogers Park, it inhabited a large store front at the corner of Lunt and northbound Glenwood — which is to say east of the CTA tracks while the Heartland is west. I’ve forgotten when but sometime around the turn of the century the No Exit moved to a smaller location west of the tracks on Glenwood. After a while, it became more of a theatre venue than a coffee house. The No Exit finally gave up the ghost in early 2018. Now it is Le Piano.

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Presumably also a folksinger. Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman

I don’t recall Charlotte Goldberg, but I worked with Tobey Prinz as a tenant organizer when I first moved to Rogers Park. She was a leader in the Rogers Park Tenants Committee. I learned I was not particularly good at being an organizer.

The original name of her group had been something like the Rogers Park Committee Against Unemployment and Inflation. If that sounds like something out of the 1930s, you’re on to something. Think of it as a generational thing. It became the Tenants Committee because, it turned out, landlord / tenant disputes was the most pressing issue for most people in Rogers Park. The neighborhood really owes a lot to the Rogers Park Tenants Committee and to Tobey Prinz. The rest of Chicago as well: 49th Ward Alderman David Orr and the Rogers Park Tenants Committee were lead players in passing the Tenants’ Bill of Rights ordinance. Through a merger or two, the Rogers Park Tenants Committee lives on as Northside Action for Justice.

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Yes, Obama kicked off his campaign for the U.S. Senate at the Heartland Café. Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman
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Mural credits. Photo by Roman.
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The entrance to the Heartland in its last days. Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman

Note that the building is setback from Lunt Avenue. This is a fairly common feature in Rogers Park, maybe other neighborhoods, “to guaranee generous front yards and a consistent appearance of a block.” This was from the 1920s when it was assumed the plot(s) would be single family housing. You can find out more at “Anatomy of a Small Urban Plaza: Jarvis Square“.

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Photo by Roman.

I must admit that in the past several years, I’ve only eaten at the Heartland a few times a year, even though it’s only a few blocks from my apartment. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to their bar. And I’m not sure that I’ve been to the No Exit this century. Mostly, I just don’t have the money for it, and I’d rather cook than be served. Still, I’m going to miss the Heartland, mostly because I’m not sure what it will mean for the neighborhood, including my ability to live here, and what it will mean for politics in the 49th Ward.

November 25, 1987

was a Wednesday and found me on a train, delayed, sitting in the LaSalle Street terminal in downtown Chicago. I was on my way to my parents’ home for Thanksgiving. It was a morning of shock and desolation for me and for much of Chicago. Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black Mayor, had just died of a massive heart attack. He was 65 years old.

The train was delayed because, coincidentally, a stout middle-aged man had collapsed in the doorway of my passenger car. The paramedics were called. Someone was giving him chest compressions. When they arrived, the paramedics got him stabilized enough to move, but it didn’t look hopeful, nor did it look hopeful, at that moment, for Chicago.

My own involvement with Washington was simply as one of the thousands of volunteers who worked on his 1983 and 1987 campaigns for Mayor. It was mostly phone work for me, as I recall, though there may have been a few occasions for canvassing and voter registration… It’s been a while and memory fades.

Washington’s reign as Mayor also corresponded with several years when I was more or less taking a break from politics, except occasionally in a “Jimmy Higgins” role. My organization, the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), had endorsed Washington’s 1983 campaign at a meeting in a church in the Logan Square / Palmer Square area. Harold Washington appeared at the meeting to make a pitch for his campaign. I remember being at the meeting though I no longer recall what Washington had to say.

DSA, I should add, made a credible contribution to Washington’s 1983 and 1987 campaigns in terms of volunteers, campaign leadership, and even some money. This was not reported then nor is has it been mentioned in any of the Chicago histories or Washington biographies that I’ve read.* Part of it is a cultural bias. Have you noticed how the indexes of U.S. histories mention far more individuals than they do organizations; how the histories are written mostly about individuals and not about organizations? It was also a very different time politically. An organization like DSA would not have been considered part of mainstream politics and thus not in the horse race. Plus, Washington’s “horse race” would be mostly decided in the Black and Hispanic wards. That was why he insisted on a successful voter registration drive prior to formally beginning the 1983 campaign. Most histories follow the story in those communities. Everywhere else was a side-show. In that side-show, DSA’s contribution was matched or more by the Independent Voters of Illinois — Independent Precinct Organization (then the Illinois affiliate of the Americans for Democratic Action, maybe 2 to 4 times Chicago DSA’s size with a good deal more money) and the Heart of Uptown Coalition (a community group).

The last time I saw Harold Washington was just a few weeks before his death. It was at a banquet that was part of a “Democratic Alternatives for Illinois” conference held in Chicago. “Democratic Alternatives” was a series of conferences organized across the nation by DSA but this particular event was organized primarily by the Illinois Public Action Council (now known as Citizen Action / Illinois) with DSA and other groups (including some unions) in a supporting role. All of the conferences were directed at strengthening the left in electoral politics, but this one had a particular urgency as Washington’s second term would be the first where he had majority support in the Chicago City Council. His hands were finally free of an obstructionist opposition, but so were Washington’s allies. Washington had a stellar record as a state legislator and as a U.S. Representative, but he had his start as part of the Mayor Daley’s Regular Democrats. This made for awkward choices while he was in the Illinois legislature. Not all of his community and city council support were all that interested in liberal / left policies but would have preferred to simply trade a White political machine for one of color. Washington faced a municipal budget crisis not too dissimilar to what Chicago faces today, and his response was “austerity”. To paraphrase Marx, humans make history, but not just as they please. How would or could Washington balance these tensions?

We’ll never know.

And yet, those brief four years that he was Mayor made a huge difference in Chicago’s political culture. Some of it was timing and some of it was Washington himself. But that’s another story.


* I don’t claim to have read any where near everything published about Washington’s campaigns. I do know that Jim Weinstein mentioned DSA in passing in an In These Times op-ed about the Chicago municipal election in April of 1983. But that was a socialist publication. Right-wing polemicists (Stanley Kurtz, as an example) for whom merely mentioning the word “socialist” is an inspiration to fear and outrage discovered DSA’s support for Washington some years ago, mostly in the context trying to persuade people that Obama is / was a socialist: an excellent example of how ideology can sometimes make people politically tone deaf. They ramped up the noise around that narrative right when the economy was crashing.

I don’t recall that the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (a predecessor organization to DSA) was particularly involved with Washington’s unsuccessful 1977 campaign for Mayor, but the New American Movement (the other predecessor organization to DSA) certainly was.

Norman Thomas

was born this day in 1884. As Wikipedia summarizes his life: “an American Presbyterian minister who achieved fame as a socialist, pacifist, and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.” He also ran for a variety of other down-ballot offices on the Socialist Party ticket, and he was the author of numerous articles, pamphlets and books.

It’s hard for me not to regard Thomas as something of a sad figure in history. He aspired to be a new Eugene Debs and the Great Depression provided his second Presidential campaign with a great opportunity, but he and the other leaders of the Socialist Party proved unable to navigate the turbulent currents of 1930s politics. The movement fragmented and declined in the face of changes in political practice, obdurate personalities, and sabotage from the left and the right. By the time the 1950s came about, the Socialist Party had ceased to be a useful agency for much of anything outside of two or three small cities and Thomas had given up running for President.

Third parties on the national level have always had a hard time of it. By the time Thomas came along, it was hard to make a case for them though they could be made to work on the State and most especially on the local level. On the other hand, left-wing non-party formations from the 1930s like the Social Democratic Federation or New America didn’t exactly prosper either, especially after World War II.

I never had the opportunity to meet or see Norman Thomas. He died in December of 1968. I joined the Young Peoples Socialist League in 1969. By the late 1980s, I became, for many years, a principal organizer of an annual Dinner that included his name: the Eugene V. Debs — Norman Thomas — Michael Harrington Dinner. It was an event that, since 1958, had spanned several sponsoring organizations, from the Socialist Party — Social Democratic Federation to the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to the Democratic Socialists of America.

The photo below is from the 1959 Dinner, then called the Debs Day Dinner, held in November of that year.

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A. Philip Randolph and Norman Thomas at the 1959 Debs Day Dinner in Chicago. Photo by Syd Harris.

A. Philip Randolph was the head of the Sleeping Car Porters union and a major civil rights leader from the 1920s through the 1960s. A. Philip Randolph was a member of the Socialist Party as well. Randolph doesn’t look at all pleased to be there, but I don’t know the story behind it. Thomas, though, seems to have an appetite. The event may have been held at Chicago’s old Midland Hotel as that was the usual venue for many of the early Dinners. I’m told the hotel was owned by an old lefty who was still sympathetic to the movement.